A/N: Here we are—it's hard to believe. (And the weather is already turning cold again.)
Was having an issue with charging my laptop (the cord was being touchy as far as wanting to charge, then stopped completely), but fortunately buying a new cord off Amazon got that all taken care of without having to get a new laptop. I'm glad I didn't have to lose any writing time messing with learning a new operating system and getting all my programs re-installed.
Well, I guess we should get to it. Thanks so much for sticking with me this far, and see you at the end!
Things seemed to go surprisingly quickly back to normal—pre-drowning normal.
Carine went back to work at the hospital, and they were so happy to have her back that, from what I heard, they didn't ask for too many explanations, besides the fact that Earnest had found that L.A. didn't really agree with him. My grades in math weren't looking too good, thanks to the Calculus test I'd missed while I was off in other countries consorting with vampires, and now Edythe and Archie were looking in better shape to graduate than I was. Edythe was still trying to find ways to convince me to hold off on immortality a little longer, and she came over every day with stacks of college applications to fill out, in spite of the fact I'd already managed to miss a lot of the deadlines, what with my irresponsible last few months.
Charlie was still miffed and, I could tell, disappointed and hurt by my abrupt skipping-town stunt. The way he treated Edythe, you'd think it was the cold war at our house and Edythe was Russia. But he was at least letting her inside the house during my designated visiting hours, so I decided not to give him too hard a time on that, at least for now.
School had grown on me. Mainly because Edythe had resumed her previous schedule, meaning we had almost all our classes together again, and once again we were inseparable. It was almost like all the intervening, nightmarish months between now and last fall had never happened.
Like it had never happened—all but for one thing.
Jules never came to see me at the house, and with my house arrest situation, I couldn't exactly drive down to La Push. During the time in the evening between after Charlie frostily asked Edythe to vacate the premises and before she came up to my room after he went to bed, I tried to call her, but she never answered. I was happy now that Edythe was back, I felt like I was in a dream—but that didn't change the fact that I missed my best friend. I'd learned not to mention Jules or the other members of the pack when I was around Edythe if I could avoid it, because I found when I brought them up, she always got this dark look on her face. I already knew the wolves hated all vampires including the Cullens, but I got the impression apparently the feeling was mutual.
Still, I figured Edythe was probably aware of my efforts, and I didn't want to make it seem like I was sneaking around behind her back, so I made it a point to bring it up now and then.
Edythe was picking me up from work one Saturday, and I was irritated. I'd tried to vary my pattern of calls to try to catch Jules, but when I'd tried calling her from work, I'd only gotten Bonnie, who'd made it very clear that Jules didn't want to talk to me. What was going on with her, whether she was depressed or not, was constantly needling me, and I was frustrated to find myself thwarted at every turn.
"She's unbelievable," I said, curling my fingers into a fist and wrapping it restlessly on the armrest. "Seriously. What is her problem? Would it kill her just to get on the phone and talk to me?"
I glared out the window. "So much for friends," I muttered.
Edythe glanced in my direction. "I doubt it's you she's avoiding so much as me," she said. "She knows we're back, and she's probably guessed that wherever you are, I'm with you. A vampire."
I shook my head. "She knows as well as I do that you're not like other vampires."
"I'm afraid the enmity is rooted too deeply for that to matter," she answered quietly. "You must see that, Beau. The best thing is for the two of us not to come anywhere near one another. I could maintain control of myself—but she is young and volatile, and it's very likely we would find ourselves entangled in a fight. And I'm not sure I would be able to stop it before I k—before I harmed her."
I shook my head, and I didn't fail to catch the sudden change in direction. "You wouldn't kill Jules," I said.
Edythe stared back at me, her expression suddenly serious. "I would absolutely kill her, without a second thought, if she in any way put you in danger."
The car was silent for a long minute.
Edythe continued, "But obviously, that would very much upset you, so I think we ought to take all necessary precautions to avoid having it come to that. You have to remember, Beau, she has more reason to hate me than that I'm a vampire, and that's already more than reason enough. There's no reason to tempt fate. She's quite right to keep away."
I didn't answer, only shook my head again. I didn't really believe that, that Edythe was capable of killing Jules. However, something Jules had said flickered in the back of my mind. "I'd hate to kill any family of yours." It was funny, how they both sounded so similar, threw around words like kill like it was nothing. Even now, I still wasn't used to it.
Edythe was driving unusually slowly now, actually stopping at all the red lights and stop signs. She stared out the front windshield, her face a mask of thought.
"Hey," I said, raising an eyebrow. "You know Charlie's probably staring at the clock right now. You better get me home before I get myself into it even deeper."
Edythe's lips flickered into a smile, and she glanced my way, happy at the change of subject. "Speaking of Charlie, I've been thinking. You never did actually tell him what you were doing when you were gone for those few days, did you?"
I shook my head. "I couldn't come up with anything. So I just left him to guess."
Edythe smiled. "I think he might be under the impression that Archie said something that gave you some hope of winning me back, and so you just up and left to find me. Perhaps he's subconsciously drawing from his limited knowledge of the typical overly dramatic, heartwarming romance novel."
I nodded. "Yeah, I sort of figured he thought it was something like that."
"Well," said Edythe, "I've come up with something to tell him that might make you seem a little less irresponsible. I doubt it will be enough to earn you a pardon in your sentence, but it might shorten it a little, and win you back a few points. I'm going to try to catch Charlie alone this afternoon—I've been hesitating because it might also have the unfortunate effect of his glaring at me less, and getting a small measure of what I deserve has been of a little comfort to me."
I stared back at her. "Isn't it a little late for that now?"
Edythe trilled a laugh. "You should know me better than that, Beau. Built into what I'm going to say is an implied, believable explanation for why you didn't say anything. It might even make you look good."
I eyed her suspiciously. I believed in vampires and werewolves, but I still considered myself a sane, rational person. "What is it? What are you going to tell him?"
Edythe's smile was brilliant. "The truth."
I could only gape at her. "You're joking, right?"
"Not the entire truth, of course," she continued. "I might leave a few things out, and tweak a couple of things here and there. But I think there's enough truth in there for Charlie to understand, and not think any the worse of you for leaving like you did. You should give your father more credit, Beau. He loves you, and wants to be on your side."
I nodded slowly. I knew that. More than knew it.
However, I was going to take more convincing than that. "So, what are you going to tell him? Exactly?"
"Well—" Edythe began, looking pleased with herself. However, she suddenly broke off and her expression changed. "On second thought, today might not be the best day after all."
"What?" I said, with some alarm as I eyed her face, which had suddenly gone paler than usual.
She turned to look at me. "You have bigger worries than getting home a little late."
"I can't be in more trouble," I said in disbelief. "What is it now?"
"You are in more trouble," she said, her voice unusually grave. "No, I don't think I'm going to try that today. But I will stay with you—I promise, I won't let anything happen to you."
"You're kind of scaring me, Edythe. What's going on?"
Edythe didn't answer, only as the car approached the house, her eyes flickered to the driveway. I followed her look—and there it was. Sitting next to the cruiser, gleaming a jaunty red in the sunlight. My motorcycle. There was only one person who could have brought it here.
I stared in complete disbelief. "She didn't."
"She did," Edythe confirmed.
I just kept staring. I couldn't believe it. This was a treachery beyond Benedict Arnold. Ratting me out on what was supposed to be a secret just between us—and while Charlie was already disappointed in me over everything else. She'd just gone and thrown a keg of oil on the fire.
"I'm going to kill her," I muttered furiously under my breath. "Formal, public execution. Gallows or guillotine, one of the two."
I glared out the front window. "Is she still here?" I asked.
"Yes. She's waiting for us over there."
My eyes followed hers, and my gaze fell on the small path that divided the fringe of the dark forest in two.
I got out of the car, slamming the door hard behind me, then stalked in the direction of the forest with long strides, my fists clenched. "Hey!" I yelled. "I know you're there!"
Before I made it to the edge of the forest, Edythe caught me by the arm and held me back. "Charlie will hear you," she said in a low voice. "And once he has you inside, he might just brick over the doorway."
I hesitated, and I saw her point. I dropped my voice to a furious hiss and I said, "Just give me a second here. I have an execution of honor to perform, then I'll go face Charlie."
Edythe didn't let go of my arm. "It's not you she's stayed to talk to. It's me."
This made me pause. Jules's words again returned to my mind. I'd hate to kill any family of yours. And what Edythe had said about killing Jules. They wouldn't really fight, would they?
I saw again the image of a russet wolf laying on the ground, covered in blood, only this time it wasn't gunshot wounds. They were claw marks—teeth marks.
At the image, I felt some of my anger drain away, and instead I felt cold. Mad as I was, I wasn't that mad.
"What does she want?" I asked carefully.
"Just to talk," said Edythe, reading my expression and rubbing my hand soothingly. "That's all. She's acting as spokesperson for the pack."
"Oh," I said. I sagged a little with relief. I felt some of my irritation returning.
"We better hurry," she said in my ear. "Charlie's getting impatient."
Holding my hand, Edythe led the way toward the forest. We didn't have to go far up the path; Jules was there, waiting for us. She leaned against a moss-covered tree, dressed as always in a pair of black biking shorts and a sleeveless white undershirt. Her russet arms were folded across her chest, and I couldn't help but notice again the impossibly powerful but lean muscle there, like a jaguar poised to spring. She pushed herself up easily from the tree and came to stand at the center of the path, arms coming to fall at her sides. Her back was slightly curved and her posture slack, as though trying to appear relaxed, but I noticed one of her fists was clenched so tightly the tendons stood out on her wrist.
Her expression was exactly like I knew it would be. Her mouth curled in a sneer, her eyes hard.
As soon as Jules was in sight, Edythe came to a stop, putting up an arm to ensure I stopped behind her. Edythe kept herself between me and Jules.
I glared at her over Edythe's shoulder. However, though I would have expected Jules's cynical expression to only send me to greater levels of wrath at her betrayal, instead, my thoughts flickered back to the last time I had seen her, begging me not to go with tears in her eyes. I felt my anger fade, and I just stared at her wistfully, wishing the first time I was seeing her in so long didn't have to be like this.
"Beau," said Jules with an almost formal nod, but her eyes never moved from Edythe.
"Why?" I asked, and my voice was low and hoarse. "What was with that? This isn't like you, Jules."
The sneer on her face disappeared, but her features stayed hard. "Trust me, it's for the best."
"What's for the best?" I said, brows coming together. "Even if you were trying to get back at me, did you have to go and drag Charlie into it? You have to know what this is going to do to him."
Jules stared back at me, and I saw a flicker of emotion in her expression, but she mastered it, and she only looked at me evenly, almost defiantly.
"She wasn't trying to hurt anyone," Edythe explained softly. "She was hoping if you were grounded, you would spend less time with me."
Jules's eyes flashed, and she glared at Edythe with a look of pure loathing.
I sighed. "Newsflash, Jules, I'm already grounded. Charlie is still recovering from the last stunt I pulled. Otherwise I'd already have been down to La Push to read you the riot act for avoiding me."
Jules blinked, and a flicker of confusion passed across her face. "You are?" she asked. "Grounded?"
"If it wasn't a life sentence before, it sure is now," I said with a sigh. "Two consecutive life sentences, I'd guess."
Jules seemed to consider that.
"She was under the impression that I was keeping you away," Edythe murmured.
Jules's surprise again turned quickly to anger. "Beau really wasn't exaggerating about you," she said, gritting her teeth. "Your... abilities." A shudder rippled down her spine, but she closed her eyes, forcing herself to get control. When she opened her eyes again, they were cool, but I could still see the fire flickering in their depths, ready to rise up again at a moment's notice.
"So," she said. "I guess you must already know why I'm here."
Edythe nodded. "I do." Before Jules could speak, she added, "But before you begin, there's something I'd like to say."
Jules's lips curled back from her teeth, eyes narrowed. Another shudder coursed down her bent spine, shivering down her arms.
"Thank you," Edythe said, softly, her voice low with the depth of her emotion.
Jules blinked, and the shudders momentarily stilled as she stared at Edythe. Her eyes met mine, looking for an explanation, but I was just as taken aback as she was.
Edythe clarified. "You kept Beau alive, and... whole, when I wasn't here to. I will never forget that."
Jules's lips twisted into a sneer. "You've got to be kidding. Don't thank me, bloodsucker. I didn't do it for you."
"I know," said Edythe, nodding. "But just the same, I am in your debt."
"If you wanted to repay me, you'd leave," Jules said, lip curling. "That's the only thing I'd want from you, beast, and you know it."
I adjusted my grip on Edythe's hand, reaching up in reflex to seize her arm, as though she might disappear any moment.
Edythe didn't look away from Jules. "I will only leave when Beau wants me to leave," she said.
Jules let out a harsh, humorless laugh. "Fine. That's okay, leech. I would hate for you to go, just because I wanted you to. The last thing I want is to owe a monster any favors."
I was getting sick of listening to Jules insult Edythe, and I cut in. "Was that all?" I asked sharply. "Maybe you should go."
Jules's eyes were on Edythe, but when she spoke, it was to me. "I'm just here to lay out a few reminders about our treaty."
Edythe's expression was carefully blank.
"Reminders?" I said, eying Jules cautiously.
"First," said Jules, eyes narrow, "they stay off our land, we stay off theirs. They don't hunt humans, either—period."
"Everyone already knows that," I said impatiently.
"One more thing," said Jules, talking over me. "If you read the agreement carefully, you'll see it actually says that they are forbidden from biting a human, or the truce is over. They aren't allowed to hunt humans, but they also aren't allowed to make any more of them."
It took me a second to process that. For a moment, I could only stand there, stunned.
"What—" I blurted. "That's none of your business."
The automatic, impulse response came out before I had a chance to think about it. However, I couldn't have predicted how Jules would respond.
For a second her dark eyes widened in shock, and I knew then that Jules had no idea what we were planning—that this warning had just been meant as a precaution. Then her eyes narrowed to slits, and her nostrils flared. She was suddenly bent almost double, spasming all over. She gritted her teeth.
"Jules?" I said, stepping forward, hand automatically stretching out with concern. "You okay?"
Edythe caught me by the arm and pushed me back, putting herself as a wall between us. "Careful," she whispered. "She's not under control."
However, Jules was already coming back to herself. The shudders had abated, and she straightened, though her fists were still clenched. She glared at Edythe with pure loathing. "Give it up, leech," she said. "I wouldn't hurt him. Never. Beau doesn't have anything to fear from me."
Edythe's expression was calm, but her features were chilly at the implication in Jules's tone. Edythe bent her head slightly, spreading her feet just a touch further apart—as though readying herself for a fight. I felt my stomach plummet.
"BEAU!" roared a thunderous voice from the house, making me jump, and completely shattering the tension. "YOU GET IN THIS HOUSE THIS INSTANT!"
All three of us were frozen for a second, silent. I suddenly had a thought that, between facing the rage of a volatile werewolf, and that of Chief Swan, the former sounded a little less perilous.
"Sorry," Jules muttered, and she sounded sincere. "I just—I had to try something..."
"Thanks a lot," I muttered, though the sarcasm was somewhat ruined by the squeak at the end, as I turned to look anxiously up the path, expecting a purple-faced Charlie to come barreling through the ferns like an enraged bull any second.
"One last thing," Edythe said, sounding calm again. "We've found no trace of Victor on our side of the line—what about you?"
Jules shrugged irritably, but then considered. "Last time was while Beau was—away," she said reluctantly. "We let the thing think he was slipping through our defenses, getting closer, but as we tightened our circle and were just about to get him, he took off like a bat out of hell. Maybe he caught the short one's scent, since he was at Beau's house for awhile, we don't know. We haven't had a whiff of him since."
Edythe nodded. "Well, when he returns, you don't need to worry about him. We'll take care of it."
"He's ours," Jules hissed.
I started to say something, but the quiet was shattered once again, like a voice of judgment from above.
"BEAUFORT SWAN! I SEE THE CAR AND I KNOW YOU'RE OUT THERE! I AM COUNTING TO TEN, AND IF YOU AREN'T INSIDE THIS HOUSE IN ONE MINUTE—"
"I think we better go," Edythe said quickly.
I nodded, but my eyes flickered back to Jules. When would I see her again? Would I see her again?
"Sorry," she said again, so low I barely caught it. "See you, Beau."
"Hey," I said, clenching my hand in a fist and feeling my brow furrow. "We're still friends, right? You said we would be."
Jules stared back at me for a second, face smooth. She shook her head slowly. "I've already tried, Beau. You know how hard I've tried. But things are different now. We just can't..."
Her tone was cold, distant, but as she trailed off, and her dark eyes met mine, her cold mask flickered, then dissolved. I saw the same pain and desperation I had seen the day I left Forks for Volterra, and for a moment it was like any pain of hers was also mine.
She reached out a hand, palm up, as though wanting me to take it, to close the wide gap between us.
Automatically, I took a step forward. I wanted to go over there, I wanted to stand right beside her just like old times, and joke and laugh until I could make her realize that things were okay. That nothing had changed.
I suddenly felt a cold arm around my torso, holding me back.
I turned to look down at Edythe. "Don't worry, it's okay," I reassured her.
Edythe looked up at me with a face that was inscrutable as a granite statue. Cold. "No, it isn't."
I stared back at her for a second, then I put my hand deliberately on her arm, pulling to signal her to let go. She didn't.
"What is your problem?" snarled Jules, suddenly furious again. "Let him do what he wants!" She took a step forward, and a massive shudder tore again along her spine. Her eyes gleamed with anticipation, and I saw the wolf in her dark eyes.
Edythe shoved me back, putting herself in front of me, back bending in readiness for a fight.
"THAT'S IT, I'M COMING OUT THERE!"
"Come on," I said in a low, urgent voice, tugging on Edythe's arm, eager for any excuse to distract her. "Come on, we've got to go. Charlie's going to come out and kill me any second."
Edythe retreated slowly, backing away, keeping me behind her and never taking her eyes from Jules.
Jules watched us go, her face twisted in a bitter scowl. However, a moment before the forest came between us, the fight in her eyes dulled, replaced instead by a sharp twist of pain.
I knew even as we retreated that final look would haunt me—until I saw her again, grinning and laughing just like old times.
And, I knew, I would see her again. We were friends, and nothing would ever change that.
Edythe kept her hand on mine, and I felt her other hand reach up to gently touch my face. I forced my expression to remain even, and kept my roiling emotions inside my chest.
I'd thought now that Edythe was back, all my problems would be solved, like the breaking of a curse. But it seemed like, as usual, they were only just beginning. My best friend considered me an enemy. A psychotic vampire was on the loose, and could show up to kill me and the people I loved at any second. The vampire government would come and execute me and my future family if I didn't become a vampire soon, and if I did become a vampire, the Quileute wolves would come after us—and if they did, there was a very real chance Jules would get herself killed in the process.
All these were very real, very serious problems—the kind of problems no teenager should have to deal with. Yet, somehow, as we broke through the trees and I spotted the expression on Charlie's purple face, suddenly all my supernatural problems seemed strangely insignificant.
"I'm here," Edythe whispered, squeezing my hand.
I somehow managed to smile a little back at her. That was true. And as long as it was, I could face anything.
Love was a force of destruction. It could make you do stupid things, maybe even turn you into a bad guy, or leave you a hollow shell. But there was nothing in the world that could make you stronger, either.
So I squared my shoulders, and walked forward, ready to pay my dues, with the girl I'd chosen standing firmly at my side.
A/N: The end. (Kind of.)
Well, we made it. (And inside of a year, too—considering I have at least one project that's going on ten years now, that's not too bad for me.) Thank you so much for coming along with me, guys, all your thoughts and enthusiasm has been very much appreciated. The preface for Eclipse should be up very soon, and I'm hoping to get the first chapter up within the next week or so. Hope to see you over there! Thanks again for sticking with me, and have a great year~